Institute of Genealogy moved to UGA after six decades in Birmingham

Published 4:23 pm Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The University of Georgia is helping transform a decades-old institution. The Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research debuted in July at its new home, the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel, after nearly 60 years at Samford University.

The second-oldest institute on genealogy in the United States, the IGHR was able to expand thanks to UGA’s facilities, opening evening classes and the opportunity to offer a family history expo to the public.

“We feel like we’re working hard to grow it and build it,” said Laura W. Carter, IGHR director and Athens resident. “A lot of people would love to attend but don’t know it exists. The University of Georgia just provides resources and has an attitude of public service that many public universities do not have. I’m proud to be a graduate.”

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This year’s institute, held in July, drew 274 people, 52 more than the previous record.

Enthusiasts from 36 states, the District of Columbia and Canada all journeyed to Athens. The weeklong event is centered around a series of courses taught by experts on genealogical research, methodology and subjects. It attracts both career-minded professional genealogists and amateur enthusiasts.

Carter said the institute usually hosts around 10 courses each year. The center’s 38,000 square feet of meeting space allowed IGHR to feature 11 courses this year with plans to expand to 12 by 2019.

Georgia Genealogical Society was one of 22 organizations/sites that submitted proposals for IGHR after the weeklong institute decided to look at new locations two years ago. The Center for Continuing Education offered a centralized location for classes, lodging and meals with space to grow the institute.

The UGA Libraries’ extensive trove of records and documents made Athens attractive, as well. UGA is designated a document repository by the federal government and Carter said both the special collections and law libraries have a broad and deep collection of source material.

“Genealogy is more than trees and people,” said Mark Lowe, a veteran IGHR instructor. “Those life stories are best told through records, manuscripts and collections. They’re all right here.”

Participants were able to utilize the Athens-Clarke County Library’s Heritage Room as well as the plethora of UGA resources. John Colletta, an author and lecturer who has taught at IGHR for 22 years, said he enjoyed working in Athens.

“Laura loves this university and was determined to bring the institute here,” he said. “The libraries have fabulous services. We’re enjoying the change and I think as word gets out you’ll have more people coming out for the public events.”

Count Athens’ Jean Giannasi among that group. A member of the Clarke Oconee Genealogical Society, Giannasi attended Colletta’s lecture on how major weather events can affect family histories. She said she wants to attend the full institute next year.

“Having the institute identified with UGA is major,” Giannasi said. “It’s going to bring people who want to do this to Athens. It’s going to be a big draw.”